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From the Desk's Mystery Series.

©2014 The Media Desk

"Hey, Doc, tell me..."

"Please allow me to introduce myself
I'm a man of wealth and taste
I've been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man's soul and faith
And I was 'round when Jesus Christ
Had his moment of doubt and pain
Made damn sure that Pilate
Washed his hands and sealed his fate
Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name"
Sympathy for the Devil, lyrics by Mick Jagger, full credit below.
      This question has been the most difficult of all, so far, for the Desk to finally bite the bullet and go ahead and answer for the Non-Fiction side of
      And, no, it wasn't because of the extreme technical nature of the subject. We've looked at Voice over Internet Protocol, and DSL, and other straight up high tech stuff before. No problem.
      It wasn't because of the extreme sensitivity of the subject matter either. Under another banner we've dealt with adult topics and emotionally charged issues. No, that wasn't the problem.
      It wasn't because of who the article was aimed at. No. On that side of things there have been articles that have been written and delivered to high profile readers such as race car sponsors and even the occasional politician or celebrity.
      No. This one was a little uncomfortable for the Desk simply because the implications of the act being discussed just rub it wrong. The hubris of the bet, the chance you are taking is just ... ...
      Well. Time to quit stalling and talking around the subject and just go ahead and do it. Well, not to DO IT, but to write about it.
      Excuse us a moment, need a belt of "double rectified bust head" (more on that later), and then we'll get to the topic, and assorted tangents, a couple of classic songs (like the above), a moment of political discussion, and whatever else between here and there. All wrapped rather loosely around the question:

"... can you really sell your soul to the Devil"

[NOTE: Please do not send in any more emails citing Mark 8 or similar, see PS at bottom of page.
    thank you]
      There's several core ideas there, not the least of which being that humans have some control over that intangible and eternal part of themselves termed 'the soul' in English, psyche in Greek, and so on. There is also the personification of evil called "Lucifer" in the Rolling Stones song and the "Devil" in the question, and a couple of dozen other things through history, which we can render in short, is he real and does he 'go shopping'? And then there a deep undercurrent to the whole thing, that we'll come back to.
      And, then there is the surface question, which was the subject of a short story about Daniel Webster, which was a retelling of another story, which apparently was based on "Faust", which goes back to Esau and.... well anyway, moving on. And, of course, the legend about the Crossroads in Clarksdale, MS. And, so on. Could any of those really have happened? Did somebody at some point make that bargain for success in this world? And, while we're at it, can ol' Beelzebub deliver as per the contract IF you do make the sale?

      Let's start there.

The Crossroads "... all of this I will give you..."
      The basic premise of the bargain is that you will have success in this life and this world, however that success is defined is something we won't go into because that is totally subjective, but at the end of that run your body assumes room temperature and the part of You that is eternal will belong to The Evil One, willingly and knowingly on your part, for Eternity. Period.
      OK, fine. But hang on one second. Can the 'party of the second part', namely, the 'King of the Bottomless Pit' deliver the goods in the here and now. This world has been called many things, and parts of New Jersey may resemble that, but, still. Can he make good on his half of the bargain? And, if he doesn't, is the contract null and void and you get a "get out of the Pit" card?
      That would predispose that Shaytan has more than his fair share of influence in this world. Almost that it was his personal fiefdom.
      Is it? Well....

"Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 'All this I will give you,' he said, 'if you will bow down and worship me.' Jesus said to him, 'Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'' Then the devil left him"
Matthew 4 : 8 – 11 (NIV, link below)
      There is no reason to discredit the statement in the Gospel story that 'the bad guy' was offering something he didn't have in his pocket. If he were, you could easily imagine that Christ would call him on it. Evidently, the kingdoms laid out before them Were, his to give. And if he has at least voting majority ownership of the local franchise, he can 'give it' if he wants to.
      So if you want, say, success as a blues singer, what's a couple of record deals as compared to an entire kingdom?
      And, so, did Robert Johnson make that fateful bargain, and did the Old Serpent live up to his end of the deal? Well, the fact that we're still discussing it almost eighty years after his death at age age twenty-seven after a somewhat 'interesting' life even by music industry standards, might add some credence to the legend. Or, as is even more likely, those who wrote the legend of Robert Johnson were slightly confused by the story of an unrelated bluesman named Tom (Tommy) Johnson who had actively promoted the fact that he had made the bargain in exchange for talent, but didn't die young so there was no appearance of a curse on him. And, if the recordings and reviews from the time are to be believed, he did have significantly more musical ability, both skill on the guitar and an amazing vocal range, than Robert, but, for some reason, his story didn't catch fire. (pun? Sorry, not doing puns this time.) Link to the Tommy Johnson Blues Foundation site below.
"If you want to learn how to make songs yourself, you take your guitar and you go to where the road crosses that way, where a crossroads is. Get there, be sure to get there just a little 'fore 12 that night so you know you'll be there. You have your guitar and be playing a piece there by yourself...A big black man will walk up there and take your guitar and he'll tune it. And then he'll play a piece and hand it back to you. That's the way I learned to play anything I want."
- Tommy Johnson (1896 – 1956)

      Face it, while both "Johnsons" did 'break through' and become the root source for everything since labeled Delta Blues, Robert really wasn't all that good, not when you hold his surviving recordings up against his 'children', such as David 'Honeyboy' Edwards, John Lee Hooker, and, of course, BB King. While Tommy only recorded three records (some would say he was hoodwinked, perhaps as recompense for his deal with 'the bad guy' but we'll let others make that call).
      If The Prince Of This World were to bestow talent, wouldn't Robert have come out of the deal playing more like Hendrix than what we hear on records from the second string companies he recorded for? You can learn more about him and his music at the foundation site that bears his name (hotlink below). And for that matter, wouldn't Tommy have ended up with an entire music catalog of his work instead of a couple of scratchy old recordings that are lucky to have survived?
      No. On closer scrutiny, BOTH legends fall apart. More than likely the 'bargain with the devil' in this case was nothing more than their deciding to leave the musical home of the blues: gospel and spiritual music, and go off and play the blues "the devil's music" in the first place. And while Robert's talent may have been marginal by the standards of the others we've named, his legacy is unmistakable, including opening that door for those possessed of greater talent and ability, and, at least in the case of his friend Honeyboy who died in 2011 at age 96, a much longer life. And with Tommy, well, perhaps to say his forgotten genius is best remembered at the blues festival that bears his name and the songs he recorded that highlight his amazing falsetto and guitar work.

      So we're left with fantastic musical legacies, and some, well, soulful recordings (pun? Nah, no puns here.), and a really big sign in Clarksdale that, as it turns out, is probably at the wrong crossroads and commemorates the wrong man. See links below.

      Of course musicians are not the only ones to fall under suspicion of having 'external assistance' when it comes to achieving success. Other artists have been accused of the same thing from time to time, especially when there is a sudden and otherwise, apparently, unexplained rise to fame.
      We won't use any proper nouns associated with living headliners here as an example, but there have been several magicians whose tricks and stunts have led some to wonder in the public realm if all of the magician's stage assistants were eligible to be members of the performer's union. Some of those who propagated the myths sold books and TV specials to assert that the magic shows used demonic power to pull off otherwise unbelievable stunts. Of course, with modern illusionists and showmen, said claims are often manufactured in close proximity to the act's publicity agent's office coffee pot, and not a Crossroad.
      Historically, the trend seems to be that when a stage magician's act was getting a bit long in the tooth, and perhaps the material was stale, and venues that used to "pack'em in from miles around" now seemed reluctant to offer a booking, a story or three appeared in the papers that perhaps not all was as it seemed with the magician, and, well, you can guess the rest.
      The same has been said of actors whose talent is suspect, and who perhaps are not possessed of extraordinary good looks, and may not be related to, say, a theater or studio executive, but yet they have landed themselves a posh part in a major production, and aren't fired on the second day for stinking up the set. When it happens once, people say the actor got lucky. The second time causes some raised eyebrows. But if it happens again, and then again, you may see the name "Faust" tossed about in the trade papers.

"Call for Mister Faust on line one."
      The term even comes up in various articles about those musicians from Mississippi that we just left at the intersection of US routes 61 and 49. The 'Faustian bargain', OK, but what is that?
      In short, it is an old Central European legend that goes back to around 1400, or so. Depending on which source you look at (link to a good one below). Supposedly a monk, or just a scholar, or maybe even a real life sorcerer, or all of the above, sold his soul to the devil for a life of pleasure and leisure, and/or perhaps, power and influence over those who were oppressing him.
      Well, to start off with, as far as anybody can tell this far out, there was never an actual man by the name of Faust as it is usually used in the stories. There were some real men with names along that general direction, but none of them appear to have made a splash worthy the contract. There were also a few in similar circumstances, but, again, no single individual to be pointed at with scorn and held up as The Guy That Did It.
      Mere facts, or the lack thereof, never stopped anybody from writing stories drawing from that well, such as The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (see link below), operas, and later, movies such as the 1967 outing starring Dudley Moore and Raquel Welch called Bedazzled, and they didn't stop Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832) from writing the original tragedies that everybody now associates with that name in 1808. Link to the free online version of Faust below.

"I see my discourse leaves you cold;
Dear kids, I do not take offense;
Recall: the Devil, he is old,
Grow old yourselves, and he'll make sense!"
Faust: First Part by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (link to text below)
      But there is a thread to the story that goes back much further than Wilde, or Goethe, or the Middle Ages themselves, for that matter, to, perhaps, Simon the Sorcerer who tried to buy the power of the Holy Spirit from the Apostles, but, to his credit, had a change of heart (see link to Alchemy article below), and then all the way back to the middle of Genesis, where Esau sold his birthright, and, effectively, the promise that would eventually lead to Christ and all that entails, for a bowl of stew. And, according to an odd legend, Esau ends up being called 'Edom' and comes to a bad end as the final act of his despising his birthright.
 "With the next day a fight began between the two factions; Esau and his retainers on the one side, and Joseph, the Hebrews, and those who had followed the funeral train from Egypt, on the other.
  "Now among this latter party was Hushim, the son of Dan. He was dumb, and was placed to keep watch over the coffin containing the remains of his grandfather. Though not in the conflict, he noticed that something unusual was occurring, and asking by signs of those who came near him why the dead was not buried, he learned of Esau's interference, and the stoppage of the rites.
  "It came to pass, when he fully understood this, that his anger was roused, and hurrying into the midst of the combat, he singled out Esau, and struck his head from his shoulders with one blow. Then the children of Jacob prevailed over their opponents. Of Esau's company forty men were killed, while the other party suffered no loss. So with the death of Esau the fears expressed by Rebecca when Esau intended to kill Jacob, 'Why should I be deprived of both of you in one day?' (Gen. 32: 45), seemed to be verified."
selection from The Babylonian Talmud
Part First: Biblical History, Chapter VI (link below)
      The idea runs that by selling his birthright Esau turned his back on God, which continues with the assumption that since he was on the outs on that side, he must have thrown in with the other guy. Something that is not supported either by the Genesis text or from the Talmud as seen above.
      Which is at least our third strike. So we'll give up and move along and look at the star of the show.

"....the Devil, I'm talking about Satan, Beelzebub, Lucifer, Mephistopheles, the Angel of the Bottomless Pit! None of those bad guys had damned thing to do with this next song."
- James Young intro to live version of Styx song Snowblind, (see below)

      It is usually in the entertainment industry where it is said that somebody has done something untoward with Ahriman, another name for our old friend.

[Satan] said, "Because You have put me in error, I will surely sit in wait for them on Your straight path.
Then I will come to them from before them and from behind them and on their right and on their left, and You will not find most of them grateful [to You]."
[ Allah ] said, "Get out of Paradise, reproached and expelled. Whoever follows you among them - I will surely fill Hell with you, all together."
Holy Qur'an, surah 7 : 16 - 18 (link below)
      A little later in the same surah (chapter) Satan approaches Adam and Eve in their Garden and says something that has been repeated a lot in Washington DC ever since:
"And he swore [by Allah ] to them, 'Indeed, I am to you from among the sincere advisors.'"
Qur'an 7: 21

      Indeed, Nothing has changed.

      And the lure of political power could lead some into making the bargain with the "big black man" who's looking for a guitar.
      There is no end to speculation, admittedly some more serious than others, that various politicians have made the infernal deal to gain temporal power in this world by giving up all hope of avoiding something worse than August in D.C. in the next world. The difference between our current discussion and the previous cases of singers and Vaudevillians, mention that a political figure had made that infamous deal with Iblis, "a man of wealth and taste", while it might confirm some of the worst fears of those who already suspect that politicians have no soul in this world, to hear that one had already bargained it away in the next wouldn't be all that surprising, but it still might hurt their chances for re-election. Most voters already believe that the majority of politicians are cheap plastic imitations of their master, you know, that guy at the Crossroads.
      But again, good evidence, including diary or journal entries from the primary source of the various stories, is seriously lacking. Which is odd because one would think that somebody who made that serious of a decision, essentially guaranteeing themselves a prime spot in the Lake of Eternal Fire just down the way from the Son of Perdition would be a notable enough event to record in one's life-notes.
      To play Devil's Advocate (no puns here, move along now) if all of the people we've mentioned have entered into the contract, there must be an established procedure to do it, besides, of course, take a guitar down the highway. Right?
      Well, maybe not.

Q: How do I sell my soul?

A: Satanists do not believe in God, Satan, Heaven, or Hell. There are no souls-and nobody to buy them. If you want something out of life, get off your lazy butt and work for it. (link below)

      Of course, some of the competing Satanic 'demoninations' disagree, and at least one has an online form you can fill out if you are so inclined to conduct the transaction, and from the fine print, it would appear to be a valid contract, although the legality of the matter may be questionable. One of the other sites the Desk checked out in the course of doing the research for this article wanted your credit card number for a processing fee. Which made the Desk pause and wonder, why would somebody so interested have to PAY to 'sell their soul'?
      Another site, which appears to be purely satirical although it is never directly stated, has souls you could bid on and eventually buy.

      Which brings up the premise of the bet as mentioned in the intro.
      It would seem, at least from out here in the grandstands someplace along the third base foul line, that IF you take the bet, you are betting that the statement from the "COS" as just quoted is right. That you do not have a soul, therefore, no 'sale' actually takes place. That once you check out, you're done. Nothing that makes you You survives and therefore, it doesn't end up in 'that not so nice place'.
      Talk about depressing.
      This writer just consigned a portable radio to the recycling bin. It had served long and well, it brought music and news and the occasional sporting event to us when we were out in the camper. But now, it can't be made to do anything worthwhile in any reliable way. It is dead. To believe that it has a soul that is now in 'radio heaven' is ludicrous. But isn't that what the Church of Satan and like minded 'secular humanists' are saying? That we are little more than an old radio, and when we're 'turned off' for that last time, that's it?
      No. There is more than that to a human being. A lot more. And to willingly seek a permanent arrangement for a fleeting moment of self indulgence is beyond rational acceptance.

      But maybe those that do it aren't 'rational' when they do it.

      In most of the cases we've looked at, those who have done the deal have been sober. While Robert Johnson was later to have imbibed until he ended up at least significantly contributing to his own early demise, nobody has ever said he was loaded the day he went out to the Crossroads, if, indeed, he DID go out there. And as for the others, some were drunks, others had their time with drugs, and so on, but to make the bargain, you seem to have to have been in your right mind. Even the unfortunate Mr. Stone, who we'll get to in a moment, while frustrated, was straight that fateful day in his field. He hadn't been at the "double rectified bust head", which meant the bargain was made in his right mind and his being fully aware of the consequences of his action.

      Which points out the next point (bad grammar, maybe, pun? no), short of going out at midnight with a musical instrument, there doesn't appear to be a standard outline for exactly how one begins the process. At least by the tradition of Hollywood, there is an elaborate ritual involved, one must draw circles and stars, and usually sign a parchment document in blood, and there has to be some foul smelling incense, and so on. Of course, every story has their own take on it, from Faust on down including the retelling by Stephen Vincent Benet where just saying you'll do it is enough to make a mysterious stranger stop by....

"... But one day Jabez Stone got sick of the whole business.
  "He'd been plowing that morning and he'd just broke the plowshare on a rock that he could have sworn hadn't been there yesterday. And, as he stood looking at the plowshare, the off horse began to cough--that ropy kind of cough that means sickness and horse doctors. There were two children down with the measles, his wife was ailing, and he had a whitlow on his thumb. It was about the last straw for Jabez Stone. 'I vow,' he said, and he looked around him kind of desperate--'I vow it's enough to make a man want to sell his soul to the devil And I would, too, for two cents!'
"... ... And, sure enough, next day, about supper time, a soft-spoken, dark-dressed stranger drove up in a handsome buggy and asked for Jabez Stone."
The Devil and Daniel Webster by: Stephen Vincent Benet (link below)
      In the story, the matter ends up going to trial where Mr. Webster makes an impassioned speech that sways the hearts of a jury which was stacked in "the stranger's" favor, who, incidentally, is never identified in the original story. We have to, "guess his name". Which rather nicely brings us back to our opening quote, and a chance to wrap this one up.

      Of course we could go into some of the old traditions of Witchcraft, but, we went partway down that road in the essay on Alchemy, see link below. Suffice it to say here that while spectacular, and indeed, perhaps even sensational, particularly to their European audience around 1500, some of the imagery stretched the envelope of believably too far.
      And we could go into the matter in light of popular media, namely various movies and TV shows that either treat the subject of evil in this world with a smirk and a chuckle, or those that make it seem as if there is a snarling demon in every kitchen cupboard just waiting to jump out and devour the unwary. That may well be the subject for another day, but not today, making light of evil does not make it any less evil. And while some might enjoy the shows, most people have the sense not to try to invoke a demon for fun or profit, and we just looked at that in the article about Ghosts. So, we'll leave that demon where he is and simply say this: We do Not live in a Mundane World. Yes, there are things here that don't have to get their driver's license renewed every few years. But, more than likely, unless your apartment is more interesting than it should be, there isn't one in the hall closet hiding behind that exercise machine you never use.
      There was also a lot of other legends, stories, movies, satanic churches, other 'infernal devotion' sites, and all sorts of everything else that we didn't even brush past on our way out with our guitar. In addition to the links below that were used in the research for this article, Any Web Search on any variation on this theme will bring up all sorts of everything, including things like the Desk's look at the legend of Lilith. So much in fact that you'd think that there was something of an obsession with the subject online. Well, no, but those who are into it are perhaps a little more intent than most others.

      Cue the music, you had to know this one was coming:

"Well the Devil went down to Georgia
He was lookin' for a soul to steal
He was in a bind 'cause he was way behind
And he was willin' to make a deal...."
The Devil Went Down to Georgia, song by The Charlie Daniels Band (credit below)
      What is it with the Devil and musical instruments....

Links and references
all links working as of date of posting, 12/14

"I've often heard it said a preacher
might learn with a comedian for a teacher."
- von Goethe's Faust (see below)

Religious Texts
The Noble Qur'an

Bible Gateway

Historic Jewish Documents as mentioned:
The Babylonian Talmud
The Talmud: Selections, as translated by H. Polano, 1876


The Devil's Music Mississippi Blues:
"The Delta Blues Museum is dedicated to creating a welcoming place where visitors find meaning, value, and perspective by exploring the history and heritage of the unique American musical art form of the blues."

The two 'featured artists' from the article:


Classic Books free on The Gutenberg sites.
The Project Gutenberg EBook of Faust, by Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
Wilde's "Dorian Gray":

"The Devil and Daniel Webster by Stephen Vincent Benet: A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook


The Official Site of the Church of Satan as founded by Anton LeVey:

One of the several competing Satanic devotion sites:


Music Notes (again, no puns in this article!):
Sympathy for the Devil from The Rolling Stones, credit:
Written by: Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Album: Beggars Banquet, Decca records, released 1968.

Styx's Snowblind credit:
Written by: Dennis DeYoung and James Young. Album: Paradise Theater, A&M records, released 1981.

The Devil Went Down to Georgia credit:
Written and released by: The Charlie Daniels Band. Album: Million Mile Reflections, Epic records, released 1979


Media Desk Articles:

The Alchemy article where we first meet Simon the Sorcerer:

Ghosts: "But are they real?"

The article looking at the Legend of Lilith (Adam's first wife), as mentioned above:

And other Non-Fiction and Mystery Series Articles.

PS to those who noticed something:
      The Desk intentionally ignored the following passage, and similar verses, for one reason. They are the obvious ones related to the topic. Obvious to the point where part of the following passage is even quoted at the beginning of Bob Guccione's 1980 film about the Roman Emperor, Caligula, who, it would appear, HAD gained the whole world, but lost his soul, and, his mind, and then later, his life.
      So, thank you all very much for the emails, and thank you for reading the article, but the omission was at least partially intentional. And, thank you, Sir, the omission has now been corrected.

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels." And he said to them, "Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power."
Mark 8 : 34 – 9 : 1 (NIV) see: as linked above

[NOTE: Everything mentioned in this article is owned by other entities, including, the various religious organizations mentioned. No disparagement or disrespect is intended. No endorsement of the Desk of Them, or by them of the Desk is to be inferred.
      The Desk is solely responsible for the analysis and conclusions hereby presented. If the reader has any issues with anything in the article they may contact the Desk through the usual channels.
thank you]

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